A mother’s thoughts on “The Accountant”.

I didn’t set out with much hope when I began watching “The Accountant”. As the mother of two children on the autism spectrum, I’ve found that most of the information that is passed around in the news media and that surfaces in Hollywood’s major pictures does more harm than good. In fact, I planned to skip this film, until a friend watched it and asked for my thoughts about the idea presented that autism is “differently gifted”. To fully grasp what she now understood, I watched the movie.

the accountant movie poster

Movie poster (Source: IMDB.com)

“The Accountant” is well written, and one of the better stories to come out of Hollywood for some time. Written by Bill Dubuque, it does an excellent job of weaving the “facts” of autism with an incongruous setting. In the first few minutes after the title is shown, we learn that autism affects 1 in 68 children* (from the CDC). We see the strain between the parents as they try to decide how best to help their son. We see a memorable example of the puzzle, with it’s missing piece, the “symbol” of autism. We watch as The Accountant’s brother remains a silent witness through most of the movie, which is a nod to the siblings of those with autism, who can be “lost in the shuffle” and have a first row seat to the struggles within their families. This struggle includes the abandonment of the family by the wife and mother, statistically it’s usually fathers who leave.

We see The Accountant interact as an adult with his customers, as well as Dana Cummings, a young accountant who has discovered that someone has been “cooking the books”.  In her attempts to be friendly, she interrupts The Accountant’s lunch routine, and we see him struggle to maintain his composure at being thrown off the task, while using memorized facts in conversation. We also see his failure to understand her use of an idiom (“where fun goes to die”), which is characteristic of those on the spectrum. We see The Accountant go home, where he finishes his schedule by using what is known as a “sensory diet”: he blares loud music, turns on flashing lights, and applies deep pressure to his legs using a roller. He also takes Zoloft, which isn’t a medication that is given to treat autism specifically, but treats conditions that may come with it. In this case, depression and/or social anxiety. Eventually, The Accountant responds to Dana’s assertion that his “life is unique”.

“It’s not unique. I have a form of high functioning autism which means I have an extremely narrow focus and a hard time abandoning tasks once I’ve taken them up. I have difficulty socializing with other people even though I want to.”

These are just a few examples of the many, many things that “The Accountant ” gets right. This brings me, of course, to my biggest concern with “The Accountant”. A handful of lines between the characters Raymond King and Marybeth Medina, who are trying to solve the “puzzle” of The Accountant’s real identity.

Marybeth: “He’s a f***ing killer.”

Raymond King: “…the why, though, that I’ve got. Someone breaks his moral code.”

I want to be clear that the statement made by Mr. King isn’t a factual one, and I don’t believe it’s intended to be by the writer. The story gradually reveals to us that The Accountant throughout is doing what he believes to protect and defend those that he loves. His most violent actions are tied to love. He isn’t a ticking time bomb or a loose cannon. My concern, however, is that moviegoers may take this statement as fact, and react with fear to autism. News media outlets perpetuate this fear at times when there are mass shootings. Reporters speculate that because someone was a loner is automatically equates autism, it goes to “print” or they say it on air, and there it remains. I’ve never seen anyone retract irresponsible statements such as these, and they *do* cause harm, because it impacts how others define autism.

This fear also surfaces, in a subtle way, in the ending minutes of The Accountant. The movie closes where it began, at Harbor Neuroscience, a place that many parents of autistic children would sell their souls to send their children to, or to have it exist in their state. We see another set of parents, here to discuss their child with the doctor. It’s in this scene that he makes the comment about autism being “differently gifted”, and comments negatively about IQ tests** as a standard of intelligence. The parents mention that their child was “missing” and that they “Hoped he would catch up”, common statements that are made by parents of children on the spectrum, including myself. The doctor is very encouraging to the parents, and makes the following statement.

“I guarantee you that if we allow the world to set expectations for our children, they’ll start low, and they’ll stay there.” He’s right, of course, and we see this play out when the unnamed child is left to interact with Justine, the doctor’s nonverbal “low functioning” daughter. The parents don’t know what to think of Justine, and the mother seems fearful when she asks if her child is sure he wants to stay. Justine communicates by computer, and the child is delighted when the computer’s voice speaks to him. The viewer should then realize that they see her as a little more human than before.  It’s true that in many cases, autism is just differently gifted, however, The Accountant in this instance shows savant like abilities in the area of math, and this simply isn’t true of autistics as a whole. Some with autism are just ordinary people with social struggles, others have epilepsy, too, and may never interact with anyone, or make some progress, regress, progress, regress, etc. Some, like Justine, will be viewed as “low functioning” because of problems with motor control, and brushed aside because they can’t speak. This would be someone like my son, if you’re curious. He has good gross motor control, but speech remains difficult, as do find motor skills. I watch time after time as adults and children dismiss him because he can’t respond, and then begin to ignore him completely. He is all too easily brushed aside, because he can’t speak up for himself in every instance of social engagement. My daughter is younger, and though delayed in speech, seems to be catching on to it quicker.

It’s disturbing to me to see in various forms of media, that we continue to view people as important or of having worth, only if they can contribute, or talk, walk, etc. And we react in fear to what we don’t understand. “The Accountant” does an excellent job of revealing that fear. So. If you haven’t seen it, or if you’re curious about “autism” stuff, watch it. Even better if you watch it with the parent of an autistic child who can point out what you’re seeing, and then discuss it with you.  Keep in mind that it *is* a violent movie, and there are graphic scenes. And keep an eye out for the extra who is supposed to be dead, but follows Raymond King’s shoes as he walks by near the end of the movie.

*The data used by the CDC to arrive at this number is from 2010-2012, and only from a few states. It is believed that the number is now as high as 1 in 45 children by other sources.

**Note that IQ  tests aren’t used to diagnose autism spectrum disorders, although they can be given for other reasons.

Book Club Notes #1

I participate in our church’s book club. Our pastor selects a book, we read it, then meet for food and discussion. I’m not always able to participate in the discussion, so I decided that this would be a great place to publish my notes. Today’s post contains my notes and thoughts on “Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity” by Tim Challies.

As a SAHM, I struggle with productivity, and my “next thing” (to do) list often seems to be never ending.I find it difficult to focus, and I often multi task to varying degrees. My desire to be social is often at odds with my workload, and rest often seems like a waste of time. I also find myself allowing circumstances to dictate how I spend my time. For example, I get a notice about a bill I’m certain that I’ve paid, and I immediately stop whatever I’m doing to try and solve the problem before I “forget about it”.

“Do More Better” is one of the most helpful books on productivity I’ve read in a long time. The first three chapters helped me to narrow down my focus, as well as to write out my priorities using the worksheets provided on his website. As a result, when I’ve been asked to participate in other book clubs, or to assist someone with a minor project, I was able to refer to my lists, and say “no”. The “Serve and Surprise” worksheet was also helpful in focusing some of our time on fun things. As a result, our family is taking a trip to the aquarium that I’ve been postponing, and I’m planning another “field trip” to the planetarium. The aquarium trip will save us money, as they are running a ticket special that expires at the end of the month. Continuing to postpone the trip, would have meant missing out.

I appreciate Tim’s organization system, and recommendations for information storage and productivity apps. However, committing to Evernote long term will eventually involve paying money for the service as users of the free service are only permitted to upload and store a certain amount of data each month. I found ToDoIst helpful at first, but I get distracted by other things on my phone (texts, Facebook, email, Feedly) each time I picked it up to add a task. My phone doesn’t access the Google store, and using a third party app to access this system wasn’t as effective as I hoped. Attempting to keep the computer available for this purpose also lead to more distractions. I’ve personally found the analog bullet journal system to be helpful. So my biggest challenge is disciplining myself to add tasks to the bullet journal, and then follow through on referring to it and setting up each day’s tasks. I’ve found that we all function better when I have a list to function on each day. The ideal time to set up this list is the night before. If I wait until the morning, I find that I’ll put it off or forget about it until lunch, which isn’t helpful.

A Homeschooling Pep Talk for Autism Moms.

We made the decision to homeschool our son, and withdrew him from the public school. Kindergarten is definitely not what it used to be, and he needs a different sort of focus at this time in his life. The decision to homeschool wasn’t an easy one to make, so I decided to post my pep talk here for the days that I need it, and I hope that it may be helpful for some of you, too.

Keep the Goals the Primary Focus.

I withdrew him from school with the intent to work on some very specific goals on the personal skill and academic level. Mastering the personal skills will make his life easier at home, and if he returns to school next year. Improving motor skills and creativity will enable him to participate in academic activities at home, school, and church. If he does have creative goals, I want him to have the tools to make those happen.

Assume he’s listening when it looks like he isn’t.

He takes in so much. It doesn’t always seem like it in the moment, but it usually reveals itself later. My role is to communicate to him clearly, and to respect who he is as an individual.

The Schedule will change. So will The Plan.

The Schedule will need to change to accommodate our needs. It exists to help my son transition successfully from thing to thing during our day. The Plan will also need to change from time to time.

You are not alone.

Many people have come along side us to help our son on this journey, and I expect we’ll meet many more in the future. Although I am the primary, teaching adult in the house, the internet is a wealth of information for making contact with any number of experts who can help us when we run into a problem.

Eliminate the distractions.

Distractions have a way of creeping up on me. Checking a text can quickly become precious time lost on the internet that could be better spent on anything else. Chasing rabbit trails on Pinterest in a quest for the perfect activity won’t help us meet our goals. Planning to check my phone, or to read, or plan at specific times during the day will help to keep me focused and keep panic at bay.

Watch me.

Pinterest quests and tumbles down deep, dark rabbit holes are most likely to occur when everyone else has gone to bed. It just needs to be good enough, not perfect, and I need to sleep in order to function. Too much coffee and too little sleep does not a happy mom make. When I can’t sleep, pray.

Most importantly, enjoy. We’ll only have this year once, and then it’s gone forever. Our tomorrow’s aren’t promised, and it’s important to me that if I died tomorrow, my children wouldn’t remember me as a strict, teaching parent, but as a loving one.

Just Wait.

I’m becoming adept at jumping through government hurdles in every attempt I can think of to get help for Our Boy. I’ve had more visitors in my home on official business than I’d like, but whatever it takes to get him what he needs.  The questions have become such a part of our routine these days that I can answer them by rote.  The latest “advocate” is a young mom, close to my age. We settle at my cluttered kitchen table and I apologize for the state of my kitchen. It’s a work in progress. She responds as the others do, “Oh, don’t worry about it! You should see mine!”

Right.

And so it’s down to business. The questions pass quickly until we come to what I think is the most frustrating: “When did you first notice his symptoms?”

“Right after his 18 month MMR vaccination. If I were a conspiracy theorist…” My thoughts end in a shrug.

“Oh, I refuse to give my son that shot. I went a few rounds with Dr. X the other day. He didn’t seem too happy about it but I told him if he had to talk to the parents that I do he might think differently of it.”

“Yep.”

The questions continue and we get thrown off topic as I wince and answer yes to all of the horrible things that Our Boy is at risk for. Elopement. Abuse. Sexual abuse. Abduction. “Is he at risk for taking off in public?”

“Oh, yes. For now he can ride in the cart but he’ll outgrow that.”

I don’t know how we get on the topic but soon we’re discussing the comments of the general public. “Do you get a lot of comments?”

“Well, I had a harder time with it around the time that he went through testing and diagnosis. I learned to avoid Kroger on Senior Day because too many people would try to engage him in conversation, ask about Santa Clause. He looks older than he is. These days I really don’t care what a random person in the store thinks.”

“Just wait,” she says. “Just wait until somebody walks up to you and asks you why he can’t talk yet.”  It’s the worst thing, I guess, that she can think of.

I shrug. “I don’t have time to educate everyone that we come across. If they seem to really care about a response, I’ll give them a straight answer. If not, it’s easy enough to walk away.”

She seems surprised that I don’t care what strangers think.

“The only time that it matters is if they decide to make a hurtful comment. People assume that because he doesn’t talk or doesn’t look them in the eye that he isn’t listening or that he’s stupid. The effect on him is what matters to me. Not educating the public.”

We move on.

 

If I Believed in Omens.

September 11th found me employed at Kmart and bored at a front register.  I recall that my smock was too big and I hoped that my new engagement ring would be ready to pick up from the jewelers. There was a sudden flurry of activity as an older lady who worked in the back offices ran up front to tell the front desk clerk, Melanie, that something awful had happened and to come see the news.  Melanie left me in charge and followed her back.  After a few minutes, she came back up front and told me what happened. The older lady, whose face I can still see but whose name I’ve forgotten, came back up front in a full fledged panic attack because her niece worked at the Sears tower, and the news media was reporting a possible threat to that tower and that they hoped there would be an evacuation. Melanie also had a connection at the Sears tower and they left to be with family.  I was sent to break by the store manager. Continue Reading

Where’s the Beef?

I keep trying to think up business plans that result in our family relocating to the sticks and becoming farmers. Occasionally, I’ll decide to ask my uncle (an actual farmer) questions about the business. I called him last week to invite him to Our Boy’s birthday party and decided to ask him: “How’s the cattle market going?”

He told me it was pretty good and then mentioned how much money he’d gotten for an old cow at death’s door. I’d give you the details about it but it has put me off beef for over a week now and for my uncle’s sake, I’d like the beef market to stay good.

But I’m on a beef hiatus for now. I hope to be over it by the time chili season gets here.